Bible Basics: Where do we begin?

“Wisdom is a tree of life to those who hold fast to her, all who hold fast to her are happy.” Proverbs 3:18

In September we began our Bible Basics class and in this blog we plan to report on our learnings, suggest opportunities for further study, and provide a place to check in with questions and comments on what we are reading at home.  Join us online or in person!  We meet at the church the first and third Wednesday of each month.

September 15, 2010:  When we approach our Bibles with a sincere desire to learn more-the question with which we are confronted is “Where do I begin?”  With 2000 pages written over a millenium or more by dozens of writers in different cultures and historical contexts–Bible study bogs down pretty quickly without some sort of structure. 

The first session we talked about the difference between a translation and a paraphrase in terms of various Bible editions.  We looked at the difference in formality of language, gender inclusivity, and ease in reading.  We suggested  that a study bible with maps, charts, endnotes, etc was a good investment–and recommended translations are the Contemporary English Version (CEV), the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), or the New International Version (NIV). 

Of those versions, the CEV is the closest to “everyday” speech and reads smoothly, the NRSV has the most gender inclusive language and is a descendent of the King James Bible, and the NIV is a preferred translation for many evangelical churches and is the product of a team of scholars working with the New York Bible Society.  The paraphrase, such as Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” has its place in devotional reading and seeks to convert the Bible’s events and ideas into everyday language and reads like a novel.   It has limited use as a study Bible but is a great way to check understanding of particular passages.  We also looked at the structure of the Bible and reviewed the basics of how to comfortably navigate through scripture.

September 29, 2010:  In our second session we opened by reading the beautiful and troubling Psalm 137. We talked about how difficult it is to read this psalm if one knows nothing of its historical context.  One needs to know something about the time of the exile, who and what was Babylon, what was Zion, and why in the world does the psalm end with this blood-thirsty cry for vengeance?  That was the springboard for studying handouts on the high and low points in Old Testament History.  We tried to fill in some of the gaps in our historical knowledge about the fall of Judah and the deportation to Babylon; and how it impacted the Hebrew people.  Then we examined the timeline to assess whether we all understood the difference between B.C. and A.D.  We did not all understand this crucial aspect of Bible study, and it was assigned as homework!

Last, we concluded by reading the beginning of Mark.  Each week we will continue with reading from the shortest gospel.  We want to study about the Bible, but we also want to learn how to read the Bible.  Mark is a like a patchwork quilts of oral tradition sewn roughly together.  We noted the prevalence of the word “immediately” (41 times cited in Mark) and how the text moves so quickly it almost sounds breathless.  Mark is the oldest gospel and it is important to understand its role in the writing of Matthew and Luke.  This is a topic for later.